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Joint statement: After the blooper,a bizarre assumption

In Egypt,the Foreign Secretary was not willing to concede that there was a mistake of any sort in the joint statement.

Written by Coomi Kapoor
July 22, 2009 12:00:09 pm

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon’s grudging admission to parliamentarians on Tuesday that the Indo-Pakistani joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh was badly drafted has opened up a can of worms.

Menon conceded to the MPs,”You can argue that the drafting was not perfect.” “These things happen,what can we do?” was his pathetic explanation.

Interestingly,while in Egypt,the Foreign Secretary was not willing to concede that there was a mistake of any sort in the statement. He dismissed apprehensions raised by the Indian media that the statement de-linking action on terrorism from the composite dialogue process was a contradiction and a major climbdown for India. The secretary suggested arrogantly that journalists did not understand English and could not comprehend what was there before them in black and white.

Now,foreign policy,I confess,is not my forte. But even I can figure out that the government has made a major blooper by allowing Pakistan to slip in the offending sentence about de-linking action on terror with the ongoing dialogue. Besides adding insult to injury by making a reference to India’s supposed activities in Balochistan,which was never under discussion in the first place. We went to the NAM summit as the victims of terror and came back with a document which seems to suggest that both countries are on a level playing field when it comes to sponsoring terror in the other’s backyard.

If Menon has now climbed down to concede that the statement was badly drafted,the question is,who was responsible for the drafting? There were in fact only two people involved in the final draft: Pakistan’s foreign secretary Salman Bashir,and Menon himself. Now Menon,as we all know,is an outstanding officer.

So brilliant in fact that the PM felt it necessary to supersede 16 of his seniors so that he could be made the boss of the foreign office. Our Foreign Secretary could certainly not have been so sloppy as to write something he didn’t actually mean. I assume that Bashir insisted on slipping in the two offending sentences to assuage the sentiment back home in Pakistan. After all,the Pakistanis had actually agreed to keep the K word out of an Indo-Pak document for the first time — undoubtedly a major concession.

Menon would have only agreed to the last-minute inclusions after first consulting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,who was busy conferring with the Pakistani Prime Minster Gilani at the same time the two foreign secretaries worked on the joint statement.

Singh probably feared that if the concession was not made to Pakistan,Gilani might not agree to a joint statement at all. Singh understood that Pakistani has its own domestic compulsions. Viewed in this light,the Indian government’s decision to agree to the two offending sentences is perhaps understandable. But what is not understandable is our foreign office’s amazing assumption that the matter could be pushed under the carpet. That no one would bother to read the fine print of the document or that the nation was owed an honest explanation.

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